The magic number for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons to clinch first place in the North Division now stands at two after a 2-0 shutout win Sunday afternoon in Bonnyville against the Pontiacs.
The MOB (43-11-3) used two first period goals and a 31 save effort by Eric Szudor to blank a Pontiac team that is trying to catch the Spruce Grove Saints for third place in the division.
After dropping the first game of a three game road trip in Lloydminster Friday, the MOB bounced back with two complete efforts to come away with four points over the weekend and set themselves up nicely with three games left in the regular season.
“It’s important to bounce back and we’ve done that time and time again and it’s a credit to the leadership, a credit to the younger players that we’ve had in our lineup. The character and just that relentlessness that we’ve been stressing since we got back from that Christmas break,” said MOB head coach Tom Keca.
The MOB jumped on the Pontiacs (35-18-4) early with their captain Brandon Ralph picking up right where he left off Saturday night. After picking up his first AJHL hat-trick, Ralph opened the scoring on the first shift of the game, 32 seconds in when a Pontiac giveaway ended up right in front of their own goal. Ralph used his long reach to chip the puck underneath Sandro Silvestre for his 29th goal of the year.
“We gutted it out and I’m proud of the effort we gave forward. I thought the first ten minutes we were real good and we jumped on them,” said Keca.
Ralph wasn’t finished there as he would take on the role of play maker to help set up the Barons second goal. The Fort McMurray native took the puck from the corner up to the blueline and spotted Curtis Roach streaking down the boards. Roach took a look at goal before finding Matteo Aiello on the back door. Aiello snapped a shot into the open cage for his 9th of the year and now has goals in back to back games.
“I thought he did a good job today just winning battles and trying to be as physical as he can,” said Keca of the play of Aiello. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog and he’s a little guy but he likes to compete, he likes to chip pucks, he’s quick and he just adds that dimension to that line.”
The teams traded chances in the second period but neither team could generate any offence. In the third, Silvestre and Szudor went save for save with both goaltenders making saves to keep their teams in the game. The Barons killed off a late powerplay and were perfect on the penalty kill for a third straight game going 15-15 on the penalty kill over the weekend.
“When you’re going into the third period with a 2-0 lead on the road you want to play smart and i thought we played extremely smart and hemmed them into their own zone for huge chunks and other than a late penalty at the end they didn’t have a lot of great scoring chances,” said Keca.
Szudor picked up his 6th shutout of the season in the win and helped the MOB get a season series split with the Pontiacs as each team won three of the six games.
The MOB will finish off the AJHL regular season next weekend with another three game road trip. The MOB will be in Spruce Grove Friday, Drayton Valley Saturday before finishing off the weekend Sunday afternoon in Whitecourt.
Written by: Taylor Pope, mymcmuray.com.
Photographer: Dan Lines
Tom Keca dicusses today's win on the Country 93.3 post game show with Taylor Pope.